UPDATE: 6/2/2013-Matt Smith is officially leaving the show. His last episode will be the 2013 Christmas special. For more details, read our article here, and for speculation on who might replace him read our article here.
In a nod to the inevitable, the rumors that Matt Smith will soon be leaving his gig as the Doctor on Doctor Who have started:
DOCTOR Who bosses are lining up Matt Smith’s exit for Christmas — when he will regenerate into the 12th Time Lord. Insiders say the festive special will be Matt’s last outing as The Doctor, after a triumphant four years in the role. The actor has made no bones about his ambition to crack Hollywood and has filmed new movie How To Catch A Monster with Ryan Gosling, which is released next year. Sources say bosses already have an idea of who they want to replace him, with work on the special due to get under way later in the year. […] Filming on the 50th anniversary episode, airing in November, will begin next month. Matt refused to commit to a Doctor Who future beyond Christmas when interviewed on Jonathan Ross’s show last week. – From UK’s The Sun, published 3/21/2013
The BBC has released an official statement neither confirming nor denying the rumor. According to their statement, which can be read in full at Den of Geek, the Christmas special the Sun implies will be Matt Smith’s last episode has not even been written yet. As such, they claim to not know what will happen in the episode in question. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know if the Doctor will regenerate. That could just mean they genuinely have no idea what the plot is going to be.
Matt Smith is the 11th person to play the role of The Doctor on Doctor Who, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and the 3rd person to play the role since the show was revived in 2005. The role is basically the science fiction version of James Bond in that the moment you take the role is the moment you start answering the questions about when you plan on leaving the role behind. The actual process of being a fan of the show and watching the Doctor regenerate into a different actor can be very traumatic (or humorous, as Julianne Ramsey wrote about elsewhere on this site). However, it didn’t seem like we had to worry about that with Matt Smith for at least a while. In the past, when asked about leaving Matt Smith has consistently and enthusiastically claimed he’d have to be insane to ever voluntarily leave the role of The Doctor. Of course, as long-time Doctor Who fans know Colin Baker, the 6th Doctor, wanted to play the role for at least 8 years to top Tom Baker’s record 7-year stranglehold on the role.
Yeah, Colin was notoriously fired after only 3 years (less if you don’t count the 18-month hiatus forced on the show at that time), and not even kept around long enough to film his own regeneration, i.e., death scene. So, he, too, never wanted to leave the role, and it didn’t work out so well for him. Matt Smith’s Doctor is different, though. Why? Well, we actually like him. Colin Baker? Not so much.
How could you not love Matt Smith? This is how he was introduced to Doctor Who – staring down a ginormous eye-ball-shaped alien and getting it to run away by simply introducing himself as The Doctor? [see below; everything from the 1 minute, 10 second mark forward is particularly great]
Doctor Who didn’t get to a 50th anniversary by being complacent. The people running the show typically only do so for a short while before moving on so that somebody new can come in, creatively re-charging the show (or changing things a little too much, depending on your view). The same is true for the role of The Doctor. David Tennant, Matt Smith’s predecessor, was incredibly brilliant in the role, with his Doctor’s manic energy masking a deep sadness. In the end, though, perhaps the show had played out the lonely traveller and emo-sadness angle as much as they could with Tennant. I do look back on Tennant’s concluding year on the show, which was comprised of 5 one-hour specials, and see a mixed bag in terms of quality. The show certainly received a boost from the infusion of Matt Smith in the lead role along with a new companion in Karen Gillan and showrunner in Steven Moffat. Now, I look back at Smith’s most recent season and similarly see a very mixed bag in terms of quality. Maybe it is time to go.
But then there’s the part where I’m completely wrong and David Tennant should still be playing The Doctor because I loved him, and Matt Smith should never leave because I love him just as much. Of course, in that scenario both actors would be on the show playing the role. What? I never said this was logical on my part. Can we all just agree that these rumors are completely false? If you say otherwise, I’m going to go all Gollum on you: